The rise of design heroes in digital technology


Social media and good design haven’t always gone hand in hand. Myspace saw the concept of design reach lows few of us could ever have imagined. When Facebook Pages first emerged for brands, there was little in the way of customisation, and that which was available was fairly clunky and standardised.

Social media is also responsible for the rush to place buttons on every single page on a website. Never mind what it looked like, your webpage has to have every single social media button under the sun, lest you forget a random site with ten users where you might not get bookmarked.

Now it’s starting to change. Design is coming to the fore of digital technology, whether it be brands, websites, social apps, social profiles or mobile. It’s seeing designers becoming a core part of founding teams and early stage development, where beautiful designs take over in a way we’ve never seen before. This can be seen across the industry with a range of benefits coming from good, clever design.

Design can get you insane traffic

Pinterest is (un)arguably one of the biggest social media success stories of late, thanks to a meteoric growth in traffic. This is due, in no small part, to the role that design plays on the site. Evan Sharp is part of the founding team at Pinterest and in a recent interview, he explains the design process on early versions of the site, which included 50 iterations of the pinboard layout we see today. And similarly to Steve Jobs at Apple, Sharp didn’t necessarily draw his inspiration from other websites, but instead looked to physical objects and spaces such as bookstores and museums.

While we’ve seen the role of the programmer become more and more fundamental to the early rise of tech startups, now design is becoming as important, if not more.

Design is (almost) more important than the product

The founders of are a testament to the importance of design. Not only is their product focused on design – with daily design inspiration and supporting offers, but the design came way before the product itself. At a recent talk, the founders Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shellhammer explained how they launched the site after a failed attempt at a social network, and they started with just a simple homepage, beautifully designed with a signup box. Only there was nothing to sign up for. This didn’t put people off however, with the design concept drawing people in, and even seeing the business into profitability just six weeks in.

Design matters to users

For those who are still unconvinced of the importance of design to any product or site, or those that think features outweigh design, look no further than Instagram. Taking off in an incredibly crowded space of mobile photo applications, Instagram succeeded because it allowed individuals to achieve quality design, easily.

This was executed brilliantly by Instagram. Not a free-for-all as we’ve seen with the likes of Mypsace, where anyone could make endless iterations and addons to make something look cool, but you simply choose from a number of filters provided for you, bringing your photo from standard to awesome. Instagram is popular because it allows us to add good quality design to the wealth of content being shared online and it clearly matters to us, and our communities.

Design doing the hard work

While it may be a slightly cynical way to look at it, design has also risen in importance out of necessity. Whereas once we browsed fairly leisurely with far fewer sites and apps demanding our attention, now we are faced with a glut of content and because of this, our time online is at a premium. Interestingly, we are also condensing the same amount of browsing activity into shorter spaces of time, meaning we’re taking in just as much, only a lot faster.

A recent survey by Sandvine found that while peak time online decreased by 2.5 hours to 2 hours over 6 months in 2011, the per-subscriber usage remained the same. What this means is that websites have to work harder to get our attention; garish design, multiple features and buttons, chunky text and multiple buttons are not going to do the job here. Instead, what we need is beautifully designed corners of the internet, simple but breathtaking that capture our attention and provide a haven from the online noise.

Design in Demand

As a testament to the rise in design heroes in tech, a recent study by Elance (an online employment solution) found an insane rise in the growth of creative jobs posted on the site. Creative postings overall account for 42 per cent of vacancies on the site, with graphic design being the second most in-demand skill across the Elance network. Good news for designers.

Of course, this renewed focus on design isn’t suggesting that you should hide a poor product behind beautiful design. But if you’re planning on activating a brand through social media or digital technology, whether it be a company launch, app or social media campaign, ensure that design is front and centre, put the designer in the driving seat and see what happens.

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